It seems that back in 2002, Errol Morris was hired to make a short film for the Academy Awards with the premise that a parade of talking heads would describe their favorite movie. One of these speakers was Donald Trump, who professed his love for Citizen Kane.
As the good folks at Literary Hub note, Donald Trump seems to have missed the essence of the movie, and its implicit warning:
Kane ... loses the election — his campaign derailed by a last minute sex scandal. His editors know what to do, and the following day their headlines scream: “FRAUD AT POLLS!” Suddenly adrift, the bored tycoon turns his energies to the singing career of his second wife, whom he forces down a path of manufactured stardom. She is widely mocked for her terrible performances, and in the end attempts suicide. Kane meanwhile retires to the palace he calls Xanadu — his Trump Plaza and Mar-A-Lago rolled into one — where he dies alone, watched over only by his butler.
How is this, of all people, the guy with whom Trump willfully identifies? A character described by his own creator as “corrupt,” “damned,” and “repellent”; a man who “abuses the power of the popular press and challenges the authority of the law, contrary to all the liberal traditions of civilizations”; who “has very little respect for what I consider to be civilization, and tries to become the king of his universe”; who embodies, as Welles forcefully put it, “the things I most detest”? We’re talking about a character seemingly incapable of empathy, and blind to the toll his selfish behavior takes on others—whether his two wives, his colleagues, or the country at large. The kind of man whose only friend says about him, after his death: “He never believed in anything except Charlie Kane.”
And that’s just the start of it. We also see Kane manufacture a war in Cuba to sell more papers; we see him shake hands, in newsreel footage, with Adolph Hitler; and we see him tell America, after that meeting, not to fear: “You can take my word for it,” Kane says, “there will be no war.” We even see him tell his oldest and only friend, “you’re fired.” In short, we see a man for whom everything—from the rule of law to the truth of what’s printed in his papers—can readily be bent, and without guilt, in the service of petty quests: for revenge, power, and ultimately, love. Not a healthy love between equals, mind you, but the love of faceless masses for their leader.
Trump either fails to see the moral emptiness at Kane’s core, or else he does, and it doesn’t strike him as exceptional. Either way, however we spin it—wherever we draw the line of his self-delusion—Trump is admitting that he’s every bit as hollow as Charlie Kane; every bit “the empty box” (as Welles called him); every bit the liar and narcissist and demagogue.